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From a wheelchair, the 11-year-old races, bowls and participates in track and field

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  • From a wheelchair, the 11-year-old races, bowls and participates in track and field

    From a wheelchair, the 11-year-old races, bowls and participates in track and field
    Name: Zach Abbott, 11
    From Our Advertiser

    Family: Lives with his mother, Kelly Williamson; stepfather, Gary Williamson; and younger stepbrother, Michea. Spends Wednesdays with his father, Bill Abbott.

    Sidewalk safety: Zach, a sixth-grader at Gilbert Heights Elementary School in Southeast Portland, is the only school crossing guard in Oregon who uses a wheelchair, according to school staff.

    Born with deformed feet and no tailbone to connect his backbone and pelvis, Zach gets around by crawling or using his wheelchair. He started volunteering as a crossing guard in the fourth grade, originally to get out of a "hot, stuffy classroom" for a few minutes each day. Now, he says, he holds the school flag out to stop cars because he likes helping his friends get across the street safely.

    Natural-born athlete: A lean and muscular baby who learned to roll over at 5 weeks old and did chin-ups while grasping his father's fingers, Zach had an upper body that developed normally -- "I'd say above normal," his mother said.

    His feet were straightened so he could wear shoes, now boys size 11/2 sneakers decorated with cartoon characters.

    On the day he received his first wheelchair, 2-year-old Zach sped away from his mother while she shopped for a birthday card at Fred Meyer. "He just took off and was gone," said Williamson, who later found her son in the toy department.

    "He has always loved speed."

    His mother enrolled him in gymnastics when he was 3 to "encourage his sense of self," she said. He stuck with it for three years but didn't like not having enough time to watch cartoons. In kindergarten he joined Winners on Wheels and started indoor wheelchair racing.

    In addition to playing T-ball, Zach started bowling at 7 and joined several bowling leagues at 20th Century Lanes in Portland. Zach wheels himself to the start of the lane and pushes the 12-pound bowling ball from his lap; he averages 115 points.

    Today, the 50-pound boy can bench press his 16-pound wheelchair, walk on his hands (which are always callused), and throw the shotput and javelin. Zach has earned a jumble of first- and second-place ribbons in the Oregon Disability Sports Challenge Games, in which he plays basketball and races indoor track.

    He's also earned Athlete of the Year at the games the past two years and placed first in the 800-meter relay medley at the Junior National Wheelchair Track and Field meet in Connecticut during the summer. Zach is on the Gilbert Heights track team.

    Home life: He shares a bunk bed and a closet with his 9-year-old stepbrother. While his clothes hang within his reach on the lower rung, he sleeps on the top bunk. Instead of using the ladder, Abbott uses his powerful arms to haul himself up over the side and into bed. To brush his teeth, Zach pulls himself up from the floor and balances on his ribcage at the sink. His mother even makes him do the dishes, mostly unbreakable Tupperware.

    Zach, who's enrolled in his school's talented and gifted program, also volunteers to read to second-graders through the SMART program and participates in his school's chess club.

    He says he sees himself as "just another kid" who likes to fish, play video games and watch action cartoons. "He doesn't think of himself as a role model yet," his mother said. "He's just beginning to understand."

    What next: Zach hopes to compete in the 1,500-meter race in the 2008 Para-Olympics in Beijing. He also will begin training for several road races coming up in the late fall. Usually he practices in his 3-wheel racing chair for up to four miles a day along the Springwater Trail.

    Zach, who dreams of being a professional racer, said he would like to attend college at the University of Oregon "because of their track at Hayward Field."

    "I said, 'Go for it,' because it could get him a scholarship," Williamson said.

    There are a few things Zach says no to, such as folding laundry, snow skiing and swimming for competition -- "because I don't know how."

    Support: Many of Zach's athletic endeavors are sponsored by family, friends, his church, teachers and anonymous donations, Williamson said. His racing chair was purchased through a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

    For more information on athletes competing with disabilities, check out these Web sites: and -- Tracy Jan